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Nation’s first Black Director of National Parks, 95-year-old Ranger to highlight CBC session

nation-first-black-directorNation’s first Black Director of National Parks, 95-year-old Ranger to highlight CBC session

By Audrey Peterman

      A 95-year-old “Rosie the Riveter” who helped to build ships in World War II and tells her original story at that California park today; a former director of the National Park Service; the current Superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s National Parks Youth leader; a national award winning young underwater explorer and a professor of geography focused on African Americans’ relationship to the public lands system.

These sterling leaders constitute the panel “Building Communities for Conservation: The Legacy of African Americans in the National Park System” at the 46th Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus. Sponsored by Congressman Alcee Hastings, the session will take place Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, 10 a.m. – 12 noon in Room 144A of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

With a 97-percent pro-environmental voting record from the League of Conservation Voters, Congressman Hastings is the antithesis to the Republican Party’s environmental leadership. (The Chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee Lisa Murkowski has a 4 percent record while chair Rob Bishop of the House Committee on Natural Resources earned zero-percent. Both Republicans are leading the charge to dis-mantle the public lands system of National Parks, forests and wildlife refuges and return them to the states for predictable exploitation.)

For the second year in a row Congressman Hastings is elevating African Americans’ relationship with the National Park System as a policy issue for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Congressman Hastings, a lifelong friend of my husband Frank since they met at Howard University in the 50s, whose district includes the Everglades, readily agreed to sponsor a panel on “African Americans and the Environment” at the CBC conference in 1997, as we write in Legacy on the Land. He has won multiple awards from the National Parks Conservation Association for his pro-parks leadership.

The panelists include Robert Stanton, Director of the National Park Service 1997-2001; Betty Reid Soskin, one of the most famous working park rangers at 95; Cassius Cash, Superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Carolyn Finney, PhD, a member of the Congressionally-chartered National Parks Advisory Board; Rachel Stewart, leading young underwater explorer, and Clarence Fluker, National Parks executive at the White House Council of Environmental Quality.

As moderator, I plan to ask each panelist to share their iconic experience with the national parks; the value that national parks bring to communities and what policies the CBC might enact to achieve a system that is more inclusive of the Black population.

The report, An Untapped Resource: Our National Public Lands and the New America, issued last month finds “strong bipartisan support for public lands among voters from minority communities, despite an information gap that keeps many from accessing them. Ninety-two percent of African American, Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Latino voters approve of President Obama’s steps to protect public lands, and 93 percent believe it is important for the next president to do so as well.” Our recommended policies can be found at

For more information about the session please visit the CBC Foundation website at

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